CARBON 12 Alserkal Avenue
Language is one of the things that distinguish humanity, and Carbon 12’s autumn show raises questions about communication that play with the idea of just what language is (or might be) and what it’s for.
The gallery has paired a couple of interesting artists with very different practices but who pose similar questions about communication and identity.
In the trio of works that make up Mute Melodies (2013) Beirut-based Lebanese artist Christine Kettaneh offers hieroglyphic codes that turn out to be laser-cut engravings on plywood, each tracing the contours of keys.
Those keys belong to the artist’s friends; but the cutting outlines the negative space, the pieces that go missing when the key is cut. Fitting that key into its lock is an apt metaphor for friendship in particular and human communication in general, but it also says something about what Kevin Jones’ essay on the exhibition summarises as “ownership and possession … exclusion and separation”.
Laid out on plywood squares, the key shapes resemble a musical notation. It’s not one that can be converted into an audible melody, though.
Another of Kettaneh’s works, Time Cutting Time (2013), makes the links even more explicit. The upright panel of concrete-poetry style text written by the artist leads the eye down to the book from which the words have escaped – or into which they are passing. The laser-cut text has a hard-edged precision, but it’s difficult to make out the words. They stay silent.
The other artist is Monika Grabuschnigg, Austrian but based in Berlin. She has a very different take on humanity and communication; her Relics Collection (2015) is a series of heavily glazed ornamental ceramics that echo the way the local Afghan rug industry developed from the 1980s onwards.
The traditional abstract patterns on the rugs gave way to variations of grenades, tanks, and airplanes; the craftsmanship belied the implication of personal and social crises, and this reflection of political and social turmoil has been adopted by foreign collectors and effectively commoditised.
These sculptures do not attempt a literal translation of the imagery in the rugs, but they do play with the traditions of ceramics, especially the ornate decorative pieces beloved of the European wealthy in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Grabuschnigg makes objects that have loud, sometimes clashing glazes; they features pop allusions, hints of weapon shapes, fetishistic decorative motifs. They speak of contemporary identity, the way that boundaries are so easily crossed with cultural artefacts. The silence here is palpable; we can add our own words.